T-Mobile herds 600 MHz spectrum from other providers for COVID-19 response

The FCC granted temporary authority to T-Mobile to use the additional spectrum in the 600 MHz Band for 60 days. (Getty Images)

T-Mobile worked with a variety of other providers to rustle up additional 600 MHz spectrum to help it meet increased customer demand for wireless broadband, as people are forced to work and learn from home. The companies that have agreed to contribute spectrum are Dish, Comcast, NewLevel, LB License Co, Channel 51, Omega, Bluewater and TStar License Holdings.  

In conjunction with the effort, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted temporary authority to T-Mobile to use the additional spectrum in the 600 MHz Band for 60 days.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, “This temporary authority will help T-Mobile better serve customers who, like all of us, are making significant adjustments to their daily lives to minimize in-person interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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T-Mobile will light up additional 600 MHz spectrum for the next 60 days to increase its network capacity. It’s also expanding roaming access for Sprint customers to use the T-Mobile network.

RELATED: Dish lets T-Mobile tap its 600 MHz spectrum in response to COVID-19

T-Mobile said it will use the additional 600 MHz in the markets where it can be quickly deployed. Ookla analyst Milan Milanovic said in order for T-Mobile to quickly tap this spectrum, “It would only require over-the-air reconfiguration, which would widen the existing 600 MHz channels in T-Mobile's network. This could be done late nights. This is assuming that Dish's spectrum licenses have been cleared.”

Dish and T-Mobile already had plans in the works to tap Dish’s spectrum as part of the grand scheme between T-Mobile, Sprint and Dish.

In a blog from August 2019, Milanovic wrote, “Since Dish currently doesn’t have an existing network — and it will take them several years to build it — their 600 MHz spectrum licenses are sitting idle, and American consumers aren’t benefiting from that spectrum. T-Mobile and Dish have agreed to an arrangement through which T-Mobile will be able to lease that spectrum and put it to use on its network.”

T-Mobile said it’s taken steps to ensure remote access to network management systems that will allow it to quickly deploy the additional spectrum.

FCC steps

On Friday, Chairman Pai also launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, in which 69 broadband and telephone providers across the country promised to help Americans stay connected for the next 60 days.

These providers have pledged to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and to waive any late fees that these customers incur. In addition, the providers pledged to open their Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

It’s not sure whether wireless networks will see a huge impact on usage based on the effects of coronavirus. With mass numbers of people working from home and taking online classes from home, Wi-Fi networks will be the hardest hit. And those networks rely on wired connections.

RELATED: Verizon girds network in the face of coronavirus, AT&T suspends data caps

Wired network providers in the U.S. are all stepping up their efforts to prepare their networks for the onslaught.

Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote, “One of our ‘talking points’ for 2020 has been that the broadband pipe is more important than ever! Well – over the last 10 days the exclamation points at the end of this sentence go up three-fold.”

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